UnCruise Adventures, a leader in small-ship expedition cruising, is expanding its itineraries and adding voyages that visit the Central American countries of Belize and Guatemala in late 2020.
Long the leader in Alaska, UnCruise has been building new trips to give more options to the cruise line’s return passengers. Indeed, UnCruise has built a cult-like following over the past two decades by offering truly unique adventures in destinations like Alaska, Hawaii, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Pacific Northwest.
Cruisers who take one of these voyages overwhelmingly return for more. Now, they can venture to vibrant and historic places in Belize and Guatemala, two underexplored gems of the Caribbean.
To get a look at how UnCruise is developing this new route, Cruise Addicts joined CEO and owner Dan Blanchard along with other crew members for exclusive access to a research trip. The expedition sailings will take place on the 70-passenger Safari Voyager, and cruisers will find an immersive experience that features a delightful mix of time on the water and on land to get a great look at the history, culture and natural wonders of this part of Central America.
Belize and Guatemala feature access to pristine waterways, along the Caribbean Sea and into the rivers, bays and lagoons that dot the coastline. Inland, you’ll find lush rainforest and dense mangroves. And throughout the region, the warm Maya and Garifuna peoples proudly share their cultures.
So, with so much to offer, Blanchard and crew set out to design a trip that offers a one-of-a-kind experience to its guests. A voyage that provides all the hallmarks of an UnCruise expedition: crowd-free, immersive, intimate and unforgettable.
“I think the secret to any destination … is the unnamed places, the places where people don’t go,” Blanchard says. “Places off the beaten path that have value, and that’s the truth in Belize.”
This was the second “research and development” trip for Blanchard, who skippered the six of us around on a double-hulled catamaran to “prove the route” over the course of a week-plus of sailing. Safari Voyager captain Andrea Kosto has been in charge of creating the new itinerary, and our trip served as one of the final phases to give the voyage (sailings will be a week-long roundtrip from Belize City) a true test to see how the timing works out, what the best activities will be and whether the waters are deep enough for the ship to safely pass.
After a week of sailing with this energetic crew — which also included expedition leaders Erika Hernandez Calvo and Katherine Mena and hotel manager Tim Karl – I got a good idea about what passengers can expect when Safari Voyager hits the region for six scheduled departures beginning in October 2020.
Land and Sea
The world’s second-largest coral reef, the Mesoamerican Reef, stretches along Belize’s coastline. The warm Caribbean waters and the Belize Reef system offer an aquarium for cruisers to get in and play. Snorkeling, skiff tours, paddleboarding and swimming will be prime activities on this cruise.
The waters are also filled with hundreds of tiny islands. In Belize, they are called cayes, and you will visit several of them on this expedition. The offer the chance for beach days, barbecues and sunset cocktail hours ashore. We visited Ranguana Caye, Laughing Bird Caye, Lime Caye and Carrie Bow Caye (a Smithsonian marine research station) to snorkel and swim and watch seabirds, hermit crab colonies and nesting turtle sites.
These small cayes are the picture of an idyllic paradise.
There are plenty of land adventures, too, with hikes in the rainforest at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and on savanna land at Payne’s Creek in Belize. Rich mangrove areas thrive in both Guatemala and Belize, and you’ll have the chance to spot manatees, gray foxes and yellow-headed parrots (among dozens of other birds).
My favorite day of the trip included a hard hike at Cockscomb Basin that ended at a racing waterfall, where we jumped in for a refreshing swim.
The itinerary includes time in towns, too, with chances to shop at the produce market in Punta Gorda, Belize, and venture around the vibrant seaside town of Livingston, Guatemala.
The indigenous people of the region are the Maya and Garifuna, and UnCruise will offer interactions and experiences that tell the story and show the daily life of these residents whose history and lifestyles provide the diverse tapestry that is on display in Belize. Get ready to try your hand at crafting tortillas from scratch, using the traditional old tools.
You’ll visit ancient Maya ruins sites, some excavated just decades ago, as well as venture into villages along the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala to see how Maya women are carving out their places in modern society, developing small baking businesses and running community health clinics.
The Heat is On
The weather is ideal for enjoying the waters year-round. OK, it’s really quite hot, which makes the water all the more inviting. Sunrise is around 5:30, with sunset 12 hours or so later, and the heat of the day is intense, so expect a schedule that gets you up early to get out during the ideal time to see the birds and other wildlife when they are most active.
Then, time back on the ship to rest and relax before going out for more excursions in late afternoon. The sunrises and sunsets are incredible, by the way. We also had several times when dolphins joined alongside the boat to swim in our wake. At night, we set out lights while at anchor and were able to witness fish feeding frenzies just over the side of the ship. The fish on display included sharks and rays who were drawn to the massing plankton.
You’ll definitely need to pack a rash guard and plenty of good reef-safe sunscreen to protect against sunburn. A strong insect repellent and hiking pants are also a good option for when you head into the jungle areas.
Sales are Brisk
With more than a year to go before the first sailing, UnCruise reported that about half the slots already had been sold on the Safari Voyager for this new trip. Belize and Guatemala are exotic and adventurous destinations, and UnCruise is really locking in a special experience, but it looks like you’ll have to act fast if you want to get there in the next year.
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